A 1997 amendment to the Forest Park City Charter reduced the number of councilmembers from seven to five, but failed to make appropriate changes to reflect the lower number in various places throughout the document.
City Manager John Parker originally said a stroke of a pen should be all it takes to correct what is essentially a housekeeping matter.
Actually, however, it will literally take an act of government.
"The majority of the local legislative delegation has to sign off on a bill to change the charter," said Parker. "We couldn't get them to do it last year. This year, it was too late in the General Assembly session to get it through."
State Rep. Sandra Scott said she was disappointed the city will have to wait another year.
“First, let me say that I am deeply saddened that HB 1306 did not have the opportunity to get on the calendar this session,” she said. “Due to the tight timeline at the end of the legislative session, we, unfortunately, were not able to get the bill passed. I will, at the beginning of the session, make sure this bill is on the table.”
Forest Park’s city council has five members elected from wards, and a mayor. The mayor casts a vote only to break a tie. Parker said 90 percent of the city’s business can be handled with three of the five votes.
However, several actions allowed by the charter specify that there must be five votes, reflective of the pre-1997 charter when the city council had seven members.
One of those actions involves the removal of officers, and became a sticking point last year when the city council voted to oust Ward 2 Representative Karen-Brandee Williams. The remaining four members voted her off, and Mayor Corine Deyton cast the fifth vote. Williams, who was told she could not legally do so, voted against the measure.
“We had five votes,” said Parker. “All the votes plus the mayor. But this was one of those situations where the city attorney said the only way to get five votes was to have the mayor vote. This has caused some consternation.
Williams has appealed her removal from office and is using the majority-voting issue as part of her defense. Her attorney, Quinton Washington, did not want to talk about that aspect of the case.
Newly elected State Rep. Keisha Waites tried to help the city get the bill passed this year.
“She tried her dead-level best to help, but she just didn’t get the information in time,” said Parker.
Waites agreed. “ Unfortunately, due to the tight timeline at the end of the legislative session, even with extraordinary efforts and coordination with Intra-governmental Affairs, we have not been able to meet all the necessary requirements for passage this year,” said Waites.
Waites said all local legislation must be read on three separate legislative days before a vote can be taken.
“Unfortunately, the clock ran out on us with all of the previous legislation in the works,” she said. “HB 1306 will be our top priority for the next legislative session. I will continue to work very closely with the Clayton County legislative delegation and City of Forest Park to ensure HB 1306 is pre-filed before the next legislative session.”